Disaster alerts take new paths


POSTED: Friday, February 13, 2009

Disaster alerts are not just for radio and television stations anymore.

Many Oahu radio listeners probably were surprised to learn of the tornado when they watched TV news, hours after the 1 p.m. twister on Wednesday.

The newsroom at KSSK-AM 590, the state's primary radio station for getting emergency information to other stations and the public, was unstaffed that afternoon and the station was airing recorded newscasts.

The 3 p.m. newscast, recorded prior to 1 p.m., bore no mention of the tornado or other severe weather.

Radio personality “;Dick Wainwright talked about it before and after the newscast,”; said Chuck Cotton, vice president and general manager.

Emergency Alert System equipment at KSSK and other stations was activated by the National Weather Service at 1:27 p.m. Wednesday to alert Oahu residents to the flash flood warning. The automated message was broadcast instantly over local radio and TV stations as well as Oceanic Time Warner Cable stations.

Some stations that did not carry the automated message broadcast the information live, as did Kathy “;with a K”; Nakagawa, on KSSK-FM 92.3.

As more people spend more time with online technology, it follows that increasing numbers received tornado and flooding news via the Internet, through news sites or their e-mail or text alerts - but also through social media sites such as Twitter.com, Facebook.com, Plurk.com and more.

One Twitter user learned of the funnel cloud at 1:11 p.m. from a friend at Barbers Point.

KGMB-TV is highly active on Twitter, through Jared Kuroiwa, director of interactive strategy. He posted three weather advisories at 1:21 p.m. including one reporting heavy rain over central Oahu and slow traffic. Its first mention of funnel clouds came at 1:37 p.m., a post received by its more than 1,500 followers.

At 1:53 p.m., New York-based BreakingNewsOn posted: “;BULLETIN - RARE TORNADO TOUCHES DOWN IN HAWAII.”; More than 25,000 Twitter users worldwide follow its posts.

KITV and KHNL-TV also posted Twitter updates starting at 2:26 and 2:33, respectively.

In an informal poll, only one Twitter user said she heard about the flash flood warning on the radio and cited KPOI-FM 105.9.

Another got the news from a radio station, but online, via the Twitter account of KUCD-FM 101.9 and from station DJ Maleko, also a Twitter user.

Radio listeners were exposed to the brief message Wednesday, however changes in the industry have dramatically reduced staffing, particularly in news operations.

“;We encourage people to have a NOAA weather radio,”; said Robert Ballard, science and operations officer for the National Weather Service Honolulu office. They vary in price and newer models can be coded for specific alerts and need not drone mundane information.

He likens it to a smoke alarm.

“;You hope it never goes off and it probably won't go off very often, but when it does, it's probably telling you something that you really need to know about,”; he said.